One advantage of the strong-mayor form of government is that it unites the administrative head of city government with the political head. In the past, the mayor, council members and the city manager were in demand for speaking engagements all over town. The mayor, or council members, would be out in the community. They spoke to persuade citizens on a course of action, as well as listened to their questions and made judgments as to what was politically possible. The city manager would be doing the same thing. However, the manager was taking orders from nine council members, and no matter what was heard in the community, the city manager still had to follow the orders of the council. The manager was also limited in what could be passed along to the council from the citizens; after all, the mayor and council members were also in the community listening and it was the council member’s political future on the line.
Now all that has changed. The mayor is the primary spokesperson for the community, sets the primary vision for the community and now has the administrative authority to cause things to happen within city government, without getting anyone else’s approval. The new mayor should be expected to hire a team of people that think like he does and who will work in concert with him to help achieve his goals.
So why is the new mayor’s team ducking responsibility? This past week, Sue Skiffington-Blumberg, the city’s head of public relations, was let go. The mayor elect, through his spokesperson, was quick to deny any responsibility for the decision. How come? This is the first position one would expect to change. The new head of PR for the city must be someone who has worked closely with Steve Bach, knows him well, knows how he thinks and can speak ex-temp for him based on that knowledge. Clearly Ms. Skiffington-Blumberg did not meet the job requirements.
Indeed, this should be just the first such change at city hall. I would expect over the next 12 to 24 weeks to see nearly every department head changed. It is just the natural progression of this form of government. A new executive takes office; he will want to surround himself with people who owe their position to him, who are loyal to him, in whom he has confidence. The existing people simply cannot meet the job description. They were appointed by the former administration, owed their jobs, and were loyal, to the former administration. They will remember the old way of doing things, if something does not happen on time, or does not work out as planned, they will be suspect.
Finally, even though the last four weeks leading up to the election played as a traditional “liberal” vs “conservative” campaign, this was simply the final scene in a play centered on a “the system is broken, everything must change” theme. Retaining more than one or two of the old players would be a fundamental mistake and misread of the political winds.